All About Anal Glands
By Dr. Peter Dobias
Most vets learn about anal glands in vet school, but I had the “pleasure” of learning about them much earlier in life. It was our family dog, a Dachshund named Gerda who taught me about the less pleasant part of living with a dog.
As we were driving up to the mountains, on a windy, bumpy road, a deer suddenly crossed the road right in front of the car and Gerda lost it! The whole car filled with the smell of rotten fish, eggs, and anchovies. Gerda emptied her anal glands right on my lap. That is how I learned dogs have anal glands.
The first time we took Gerda up, my two sisters, brother, and I all wanted to have her on our lap. To make things fair, we drew matches and I was the lucky winner.
Dachshunds are very passionate when it comes to tracking and they love being in the forest and Gerda was no exception. She especially loved going to our cottage up in the mountains.
Anal Gland Anatomy And Function
Anal glands are little sacs located on either side of the anus. Their openings are at nine and three o’clock. They are scent glands that have two functions. The first is to produce a very strong and pungent scent for marking territory. The second is to help the body eliminate toxins and unnecessary substances. They can be compared to very large sweat glands.
The anal glands can be viewed as the body’s garbage bin that empties automatically whenever the toxin levels reach a certain point.
How To Recognize Normal And Problem Anal Glands
Some people worry when they smell the fishy smell of anal glands, but it is absolutely normal for healthy dogs to express the anal glands once in a while.
If your dog is happy, not licking, and has no other symptoms, an occasional smell is part of normal anal gland function. In other words, there is no need to rush to the vet or a groomer to have the anal glands squeezed and cleaned. But if there is obvious inflammation and redness around the anus, then your dog may have a problem.
The four most common anal gland problems in dogs are anal gland inflammation (anal sacculitis), dysfunction when they are not emptying on their own, an abscess or rupture of the anal gland due to obstruction of the opening (duct), and tumours.
There are five main factors that cause anal gland issues. They are diet, especially processed, artificially-flavoured and preserved food, toxin build-up, obesity due to a carb-based diet, overfeeding or lack of exercise, liver imbalance or disease, which is frequently related to general toxicity, and lumbosacral spine and muscle injury that leads to decreased energy flow to the anal glands and lack of tone.
Anal Glands Are The Signal That Something Is Wrong
Similar to eye disease and ear problems, anal gland problems are also a red flag that something else in the body is going on.
Conventional treatment often focuses on the issue locally by expressing the content, possibly a flush, antibiotics or surgery. However, this approach doesn’t address most of the causes mentioned above and the problem usually reoccurs.
The Role Of Obesity In Anal Gland Problems
Obesity related to processed food makes anal glands “sink” in the fat tissue, which makes the natural anal gland evacuation incomplete. This naturally leads to toxin build up, anal gland congestion, inflammation, and sometimes very painful infections.
Should Anal Glands Be Expressed Manually Or Not?
Dog lovers are often misinformed because they are told they should get their dog’s anal glands emptied. Some veterinarians and groomers believe that expressing them will prevent them from filling up, which is not correct. In reality, the more frequently they are squeezed, the less toned they are. It seems that the canine glands get “lazy” by having them squeezed too often.
Ideally, you should let your dog’s anal glands do their job and allow them to empty naturally. Most dogs’ anal glands tend to be semi-full when examined, but that is not a reason to have them expressed.
However, it is a good practice to examine your dog’s anal glands once every six months or when there are signs of problems such as dragging their bum on the ground, licking under the tail or swelling around the anus.
Injuries To The Lumbar Spine
It may be a surprise to you, but many high-performance dogs and dogs with lumbar-sacral injuries suffer from anal gland problems.
The lumbar-sacral area supplies the nerve and energy flow to the anus and anal glands. When the muscles become tight, the nerve flow decreases and the anal gland tone is diminished. That is why some seemingly healthy, but very active dogs on a healthy diet continue having anal gland issues.
Doing less sprinting, Frisbee, and ball retrieving and instead engaging in more varied exercise often does the trick. I also recommend routine physio or chiro visits to address potential injuries before they become chronic.
Is Anal Gland Removal A Reasonable Option?
Unless there is a growth in the anal gland, inflammation, and a tendency for chronic inflammation there is no requirement for a drastic and traumatic measure like surgery.
Anal gland removal is a very painful and difficult surgery and can also lead to fecal incontinence and other problems. The procedure severely disturbs the body’s detox processes and negatively effects the whole body.
Never let anyone convince you that your dog's health problems will get better by removing anal glands because they will likely get worse. Removing anal glands is like removing all trash bins from your home. It would not be long before you generate an irreparable mess and damage.
What About Anal Gland Abscess?
Large swelling, redness, frequent licking or lethargy may be a sign of an anal gland abscess. In such cases, you should seek the help of a veterinarian.
If the anal gland is already ruptured, use of a local anesthesia and flushing with an herbal healing formula may be all you need to do. I have seen some dog guardians putting their dog through an unnecessary surgery because “the vet said so.”
If the abscess has not ruptured, a flush with a catheter inserted in the anal gland duct may be sufficient. Your veterinarian may need to repeat this a few times. Surgery and a drain placement are needed only in a small number of cases and antibiotics are not always required, but sometimes may be a necessary “crutch” to prevent prolonged discomfort and swelling. Often a doggy diaper or pants is all you need.
Use a buster collar or “pants” to prevent your dog from licking. Some soft cloth collars will do the job and are more comfortable than the firm plastic collars. More trouble, pain, and expense will follow if he or she continues to lick.
If you do not take all the steps described in this article, your dog’s healing may be slower and sometimes complicated. Make sure that your veterinarian examines your dog's anal area properly to rule out the slight possibility of tumors.
Beware Of A Common Diagnostic Error!
If a tumor is found, ensure that a proper histology examination is done. I have seen mistakes made between anala and perianal gland tumors. Perianal glands are very small and surround the anus at the boundary between the skin and the anus lining. Perianal glands are not anatomically related to the actual anal glands.
If a tumor is found, never agree to surgery without a proper diagnosis that has been determined by taking a sample with a needle or doing a biopsy.
Supplements For Dogs With Anal Gland Problems
A large majority of dogs do very well and their problems resolved by giving them a liver cleanse. Introduce all-natural probiotics, whole-food multivitamin, and mineral supplements and an omega-supplement.
You can start these supplements gradually over a period of one to two weeks. If your dog is picky, mix these products in yogurt or something that he or she likes. I wish you and your dog many pain and discomfort-free years ahead.
Photo Credit illustration: Jessica Palmer
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